by Larry Ham
He used to roam the sidelines, motivating 80 Reedley College football players to be the best they can be. Now he sits behind a desk trying to motivate thousands of Reedley College students to do the same. He’s Reedley College’s Vice President of Student Services, Michael White.
When I first began broadcasting Reedley College Football games on the radio in 1995, I didn’t know Michael White at all, and to me he was an imposing and intimidating figure. I had known plenty of Football coaches in my fifteen years in radio, and I found many of them to be uncooperative and a little bit self absorbed – not at all interested in talking to anyone in the media. Getting to know Michael White completely shredded those preconceived notions.
In the past fifteen years, I have gotten to know a man who not only breaks the mold of the stereotypical Football Coach, but also is frankly proud of the fact that he puts family first, and cares more about his players getting an education than putting up wins. It’s not that Michael White doesn’t want to win – believe me when I tell you that he was an intense presence during games – but he has never lost his perspective on what’s really important in life.
I recently had the opportunity to visit with Michael White and he was nice enough to answer a few questions.
Larry: First, tell us about where you grew up, where you went to school and the path that led you to Reedley College.
Michael White: I was born in Oakland and grew up in the East Bay Area. I played football and wrestled at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord, where our team colors were red and green – I like to say it was Christmas every day of the year! I was recruited to Cal Berkeley and UC Davis for Football and Brown University for Crew, not football, even though I had never been in a watercraft like that! I decided to go to UC Davis. I graduated and coached two years at Lower Lake High School, then at Boise State, Long Beach State, and the University of New Mexico.
Larry:When you came to Reedley College, you took over a Football program that didn’t even field a team in 1989. How do you go about starting from scratch, building a football program?
Michael White:I tried to ignore the fact that of the three kids that came out to spring practice in 1990, my first semester here, were all lesser athletes than myself! No gear, no sleds, no coaches, just lil’ ol’ me and three kids from a PE class. I considered medication, but opted otherwise! Randy Whited came next fall and I “scrambled” to put together a staff for the first couple of years. Both the players in the area, as well as the available coaches wanted nothing to do with us at the time!
Larry:Did you have a specific time line in mind for when you expected to start seeing some positive results?
Michael White: Fielding a team was progress! I had expected to see more wins than just one in 1990 my first year, but looking back at it now, we were pretty bad. Picture the “bad news bears” in helmets and shoulder pads! By 1994 and 1995, I knew we were going to be OK … the staff was solid and we had Ernest Rodriquez at Quarterback. He led us to our first bowl – The Producer’s Dairy Bowl in 1995.
Larry:The first few seasons were pretty challenging, with a lot of losses. Did there ever come a time when you thought, why did I do this?.
Michael White: See above and emphasize the medication. Really though, I am not easily intimidated (except for my wife). I do recall standing in the middle of the practice field in January 1995 and wondering if they were going to give me enough time to turn the thing around. They did, though it was close. I recall being told by the president at the time that we needed to win. We had hovered around 3-4 wins during the first couple of years. I knew we were going to be OK with Ernest and gave him the “guarantee”. We won and got it rolling soon afterwards.
Larry:It’s been eight years since that magical 2002 season. Can you briefly take us through that year? Did you know early on you had a special team?
Michael White: We had a 4-6 year in 2001, if I recall, but things were in place. We had some injuries and had dropped some close games. I had begun to approach Randy Whited about this “3-5-3 – thing-of-a-defensive scheme” being played on the east coast. We did our homework and implemented it in 2002. We had a true lock-down corner in Lionel Green, and Craig Harvey and Donyell Booker in the middle. Robert Johnson came by way of a young man I had coached at the University of New Mexico. Robert was his nephew and he sent him to me. Honestly, Robert was an unknown until the first game at Antelope Valley – he ran around and made us look decent on offense and we were pretty good on defense. Robert grew up over the year, playing better each game. The defense was the difference – no one had seen the 3-5-3 and they had no answers for it.
Larry:After nineteen years as Reedley College head football coach, you became Vice President of Student Services. Why did you decide to change jobs?
Michael White: I like a challenge. I could honestly have coached until retirement, but this position opened and I was encouraged by some colleagues to apply. There must have been a weak pool of candidates – I think a couple of dead guys applied. Really though, this position gives me a chance to effect more kids. I can help everyone on the campus with student services, and not just 75 Football guys.
Larry:What are your duties as VP of Student Services?
Michael White: Direct reports include financial aid, admissions and records, health services, testing, the residence hall, outreach, student activities, matriculation, EOPS and Cal works, counseling, athletics, Physical Education and a partridge in a pear tree.
Larry:Your trusted friend and Defensive Coordinator, Randy Whited, took over the team when you left. How’s he done so far?
Michael White: This is really his first year. Without a chance to hire a true offensive coordinator last year, it was tough. I expect that he will take from what he knows we did and make it his own. I have seen some changes, from a distance. He has to find his own way. Athletics reports to me, but I’m giving him space to grow.
Larry:Do you attend practices and games? Has the transition been difficult?
Michael White: Harder than you can imagine.
Larry:Over the years, whenever I asked you what you enjoyed about coaching, you always mentioned the competitive aspect. Is there a way to channel that competitiveness into your new job?
Michael White: I compete against other schools and divisions, myself, etc. to improve. I can create competition in my own mind – there’s a lot of space for renovation up there! There is absolutely no “win” in this position like you would get in athletics, though. There’s nothing like my last game vs. Fresno at their place. The kids played great and we won the pump back. My best memory.
Larry:Is there any chance that you will ever return to coaching again?
Michael White: If I really mess this thing up, I have retreat rights back as a faculty member. Maybe Randy will let me coach the D-Line again. I would then have truly come full circle!
Larry:I know you really enjoy living in Reedley. What is it about Reedley that you find attractive?
Michael White: The best place ever to raise kids. The town supported us, win or win! Really though, folks got behind football and lifted it back to a national level. I still recall the 2008 Fresno game – we had at least twice as many fans as them – in their Stadium!
Larry:Another thing I have learned about you over the years is that you always put your family first. Tell us a little bit about your family, and why family is so important in your life.
Michael White: My wife has raised three wonderful kids – Lauren (24), Hayley (16) and Michael (52). We are all growing up together in Reedley. Perhaps it is my own experience – I came from a broken home. I just tried to make up for those 8 years of division one ball, where I wasn’t around much of Lauren’s first couple years of life. Ruth did most of the work. (editor’s note: Ruth White has a pretty full plate as well, as Principal of T.L. Reed middle school).
Larry:Even in just the past twenty years, college athletics has changed a lot. It’s a huge business now. If you could change one thing about the culture of college sports, what would it be?
Michael White: I would have every kid come from a two-parent family – no broken homes. The problem is not in athletics, it’s our entire culture. The family has degraded and values once taught around the dinner table no longer exist. The business end of the problem resides in television revenues. TV is the monster that all of college football, for example, must feed. It’s a bad combination – lots of money that doesn’t go to the producers of the product (the players) and players who have not learned the value of a dollar and how to say “no”. No wonder there are so many USC-like violations out there right now. Enough of the soapbox, though.
As you can tell by that last answer, Michael White has more on his mind than x’s and o’s, and he also has a great self-deprecating sense of humor.
I’ll end with a little flash back. It was the night before the 2006 Reedley/Fresno game. It’s the biggest game of the season for both teams – The Battle For The Pump. It was Michael’s routine to meet with his Quarterbacks on Friday evening for dinner and a strategy session. After our radio interview that Friday I asked him what he was going to say to his QB’s. He said he wasn’t meeting with them that night, because he was taking his daughter Hayley to a Hanna Montana Concert in Fresno. That’s really all you have to know about Michael White as a person, and it’s also why I consider him one of the finest people I have met in my life.
You can hear Larry in action this coming season as a commentator once again for Reedley College’s Tiger Football webcasts.
Kings River Life Magazine will be featuring exclusive interviews with Reedley College football coaches every month until the end of the season, as well as recaps of each game on the following Monday nights at 7 p.m..